Hamilton’s controversial plan to license rental units has reared its head again in the Ward 1 council race, where some candidates say they’d try to resurrect it if elected.

Six candidates are running for the west Hamilton ward, which struggles with student housing issues. Some said during a debate on Monday that they’d try to get the plan — or at least one specific to west Hamilton — back on the table.

The notion of a bylaw to license rental units drew heated comment from both sides last year. The plan would have seen the city issue licenses to rental units in buildings with six or fewer apartments.

It was designed to crack down on poorly maintained rental units around McMaster University and Mohawk College. But some advocates for the homeless and landlords spoke against it, saying it would reduce the amount of affordable housing in the city.

Council voted it down, instead vowing to beef up an existing proactive enforcement program and hire four full-time staff to investigate local properties.

All six candidates – Jason Allen, Tony Greco, Aidan Johnson, Brian Lewis, Ira Rosen and Sandy Shaw – agreed that the city needs to do more to crack down on problem landlords. Shaw said she’d “readdress the notion of a bylaw for student housing,” while Rosen and Allen said there should be a Ward 1-specific bylaw.

Brian McHattie, who is running for mayor, has represented Ward 1 for more than a decade. Whoever replaces him will have to make student housing a priority, said Jay Parlar, president of the Ainslee Wood-Westdale Community Association.

“If you take a walk around many areas of Ainslee Wood and Westdale, you can see that there’s been horrendous deterioration of housing stock,” he said.

“Houses are falling apart. Students are living in unsafe conditions. You get concentrations where it turns into a party area, and it’s impossible for residents who’ve been living in their homes for 35, 40 years to stay there.”

Here’s what each candidate said about how they’d address the issue:

Lewis: It will take a “multi-pronged approach” that includes working with city bylaw enforcement and developing more student housing downtown.

Johnson: He was raised in an area of Westdale where “very bluntly, my family was driven off by student housing.” He’d like to see more bylaw enforcement, and create a registry of landlords so the city can regulate them. He’d also like to better educate students about their rights as tenants.

Greco: Build more student housing downtown and boosting enforcement.

Shaw: Bring all the partners together to talk about the issue, and have more proactive enforcement of existing codes. Also, revisit the notion of a bylaw for student housing, “but proactive enforcement should be number one.”

Allen: Cross-train bylaw enforcement officers currently working in Westdale. “All they’re inspecting right now is parking issues.” Develop a neighbourhood-specific rental housing bylaw for Ainslee Wood and Westdale.

Rosen: Tailor a specific bylaw to the community and reach out to other associations to find out what they’re doing.

Making Main and King two-way streets

The candidates were also asked if they were in favour of making Main Street and King Street two-way, as mentioned in the transportation master plan the city is developing.

Here’s what each of them said:

Shaw: She’s in favour of converting Main and King, and other two-way conversions.

Allen: He’s in favour of two-way conversions, particularly Queen Street from Main to Herkimer, and would like to eventually see Main and King converted.

Rosen: He likes Main and King being one way, and the flow of traffic it creates. He doesn’t want to see Toronto-style congestion and fears that conversion would create that.

Greco: The idea needs “a long-term study and vision,” and careful consideration.

Johnson: Two-way conversions should be done on a case-by-case basis, but they have worked in other areas of the city, and “there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

Lewis: He’s against the notion. “If part of the strategic plan being developed is to create traffic congestion to make the case for LRT, then let’s change the streets to two-way streets.”

The Strathcona Community Council, Kirkendall Neighbourhood Association and Ainslee Wood-Westdale Community Association hosted the event.

Ward 1 is one of four wards with no incumbent running.

In Ward 9 in Stoney Creek, Coun. Brad Clark is running against McHattie for mayor. In Ward 13 in Dundas, Coun. Russ Powers is retiring. In Ward 3, Coun. Bernie Morelli died earlier this year.